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Prioritizing COVID vaccinations

Prioritizing COVID vaccinations

Meat and poultry workers should be near the top of the list, industry groups say

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Meat processing employees should be among the first groups of people to receive COVID vaccinations, industry groups say.

The North American Meat Institute, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council sent a joint letter to each U.S. governor asking them to prioritize COVID vaccinations for the men and women working in the meat and poultry sectors.

Healthcare workers and people working in long-term care facilities should receive the vaccine first.

“But prioritizing thereafter meat industry workers and their livestock suppliers addresses an industry that is part of the critical infrastructure and necessary to ensure the animals are harvested and processed,” the groups wrote in their Dec. 4 letter. “Such prioritization would allow the utilization of an existing workforce to deliver the vaccine to a significant and important part of the workforce.”

A national group also believes meat and poultry workers should be among the first recipients of a COVID vaccine.

The Committee on Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus, which is part of the National Academics of Science, Engineering and Medicine, identified meat processing employees as part of the population who work in essential industries and are at high risk of exposure.

“All workers in this population group need to be provided the vaccine, and special efforts must be made to reach these workers in ways that encourage them to be vaccinated,” the committee wrote.

The pandemic has had significant effects on America’s meat processing sector.

Multiple packing plants in the U.S. had to close, at least temporarily, as outbreaks of COVID-19 occurred at those facilities.

These closures and related delays caused processing capacity to decline.

“Following the slowdown or closure of a number of beef processing plants in late April, U.S. cattle (processing) dropped to almost 50 percent below 2019 levels,” a May 2020 Rabobank report said. has contacted industry groups and meat processors for comment on vaccine distribution and if receiving a vaccine could be made a condition for employment.

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